600K Michiganders lost employer-based health insurance during pandemic

Urgent care, East Lansing | Susan J. Demas

More than 1.2 million Michiganders have filed for unemployment insurance and almost half of those workers likely lost employer-provided health insurance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study from the Economic Policy Institute.

Between March 15 and April 25, 590,684 Michigan workers who received health insurance through their employer filed initial claims for unemployment insurance.

“Because the United States is unique among rich countries in tying health insurance benefits to employment, many of the newly unemployed will suddenly face prohibitively costly insurance options,” write economist Ben Zipperer and Josh Bivens, EPI’s director of research.

EPI, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, estimates that 12.7 million workers across the U.S. have lost their health insurance due to layoffs and furloughs. 

In 2018, there were 535,000 people in Michigan without health insurance, per the most recent U.S. census data available. The number of Michiganders who recently lost their employer-based insurance exceeds that.

The number of uninsured was already on the rise, with 25,000 fewer residents with coverage between 2017 and 2018.

Nationally, 2 million more people were uninsured in 2018 compared to 2017, for a total of 27.5 million. This was the first increase since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect in 2014. The President Trump administration has pushed a number of changes weakening the law and backs a lawsuit that would kill it.

The recent increase in those who lost employer-based coverage could be one reason for a spike in Medicaid recipients in the state. 

Number of Michiganders without health insurance rises in 2018

As of March, there were 1.77 million Medicaid beneficiaries in Michigan, per the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHHS). There were 694,739 Michiganders enrolled in the Healthy Michigan plan, the name of Michigan’s Medicaid expansion plan made possible by the ACA.

This is an increase of 12,207 more on Medicaid and 9,453 enrolled in Health Michigan since February.

Just days before Michigan reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 10, a federal judge ruled that approval of the Medicaid work requirements was unlawful, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was ordered to no longer require participants to report work to maintain coverage.

In response to the pandemic, the DHHS has also made a number of changes to streamline Medicaid.

Some of these measures include suspending new prior authorization requests for medical services and extending existing prior authorization agreements, expediting enrollment for Medicaid providers and approved out-of-state providers, allowing coverage for telehealth, waiving quantity limits on medical equipment, medical supplies and pharmaceuticals and removing limitations on providers to allow qualified physician assistants and nurses to treat COVID-19 patients.